It is estimated that between 50 and 100 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches each year. Is this epidemic due to some widespread ibuprofen or acetaminophen (Tylenol) deficiency? Of course not. Just like any symptom, headaches are the body’s way of signaling that there is something wrong. So what causes headaches and what can be done about them?
There is a wide range of headaches with varying causes. However, over 80% of headaches are linked to cervogenic (neck created) problems.
The neck is a very important part of the body. It houses major blood vessels; air and food passageways; lymph nodes and drainage ducts for waste products. In addition, the neck contains the brain stem and spinal cord, which in turn control the entire body.
In spite of these many responsibilities, the neck is one of the most vulnerable parts of the body and spine. Stresses and tension on neck structures follow a change in the position of the head, i.e., abnormal posture. The most severe stress on the neck is generated by a forward position of the head. In fact, for every inch forward the head is carried from the shoulders the work done by the neck muscles doubles. For example, an average head weighs 15 pounds. If it is one inch forward, the muscles have to work as if they are supporting a 30 pound head.
The most common cervogenic headache is the tension headache.
These headaches are caused by muscle tension from abnormal head posture or muscle spasms resulting from fixed or locked joints in the spine. Tension headaches respond quickly to chiropractic adjustments. Short-term relief is achieved by alleviating muscle spasms and locked joints; long term relief by restoring proper head position and a more natural cervical curve. This same regime of care has also become the primary treatment for post-whiplash headaches. These posttraumatic headaches not only affect the muscles and ligaments, but damage nerve tissue and receptors. This may result in dizziness, difficulty in concentration, and insomnia.
The lymphatic system relies on muscle contraction to pump waste product out of tissues and back into the blood vessels to be cleaned. When muscles are in spasm, lymph flow becomes stagnant and waste products build up. These wastes can irritate surrounding tissues causing headaches and creating an environment for secondary bacterial infections such as, ear infections and sore throats. Proper joint motion and muscle function of the neck is essential to the lymphatic system.
Another system affected by stress in the neck is the vascular system. A decreased neck curve causes a tethering or elongation of the blood vessels traveling within the spinal cord. This can cause decreased blood supply or vascular spasms that may result in Migraine Headaches. Migraines can be preceded by visual disturbances, sensory and motor disturbances, as well as nausea.
One of the most painful and debilitating kind of headache is known as a Cluster Headache, because recurring attacks can happen as often as three times a day. Cluster Headaches have been linked to involvement with the Trigeminal nerve. This nerve is found in the brain stem area and is put under tension during a head forward position.
Remember that regardless of whether a headache stems from neck problems, food allergies, or high blood pressure, there is an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. Headaches are not “normal” and painkillers just mask the symptom and do nothing to eliminate or correct the true cause.